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BusinessMarch 16, 2021

Close to a hundred NZ companies sign letter calling for ‘modern slavery’ law

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Some of Aotearoa’s best known companies – including Barkers, Coca-Cola NZ, Countdown, Fix and Fogg, PWC and The Warehouse – have signed an open letter calling on the government to legislate against the use of slave labour.

The letter, reprinted in full below, has 85 company signatories in total and will be presented to the workplace relations and safety minister Michael Wood in Wellington today.

For many, the word “slavery” may seem out of place in the 21st century, even more so the need for legislation to address it. But, sadly, it is not entirely a relic of history. According to Walk Free, more than 40 million people remain enslaved today with two-thirds of all people in modern slavery living in the Asia/Pacific region. The level of modern slavery within New Zealand is currently unknown. 

The groups behind the open letter – Trade Aid, Walk Free and World Vision – said that New Zealand has no accountability legislation that addresses transparency in supply chains. “This means that New Zealand companies could unknowingly be importing products or services by which people are exploited and enslaved.”

According to The Warehouse Group, whose companies are all signatories of the letter, New Zealand is lagging behind other nations that have equivalent laws. “New Zealanders want to know that overseas workers who make their products are treated fairly,” said the company’s chief product officer Tania Benyon. “Introducing modern slavery legislation in New Zealand will encourage businesses to work collaboratively to raise standards and stamp out modern slavery from supply chains.”

The head of New Zealand coffee brand L’Affare, Paul Cockburn, agreed. “Our coffee passes through many hands before it reaches us so transparency between us and the producers in coffee-growing countries worldwide is important to us,” he said. “The L’affare brand (and the people behind L’affare) align with those of many NZ coffee businesses, in support of values-based business and in support of the meaningful measures this open letter speaks to.”

The Labour government has commented on the issue of modern slavery before, pledging prior to the last election to investigate “the implementation of modern slavery legislation in New Zealand to eliminate exploitation in supply chains”. The minister responsible, Michael Wood, said recently that he’s receiving advice from officials and speaking to international experts on the matter. However, there’s indication yet whether the government will move forward with a law change.

The businesses behind this letter hope they can have an impact. “New Zealand’s identity as a nation is built on kindness, fairness, equality, and sustainability. As New Zealand continues to trade on these credentials, showing leadership on addressing modern slavery through ensuring its companies and public sector are meeting global labour rights standards, becomes more important,” reads the letter.

In September last year, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment released a draft plan of action against forced labour, people trafficking and slavery – the first update to New Zealand’s modern slavery plan in a decade. 

The open letter, in full:

Dear Minister,

We call on the New Zealand government to commence a government inquiry into a Modern Slavery Act for New Zealand business and public sector supply chains.

Walk Free’s 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that 40.3 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery, a crime from which no country is immune. In a globalised world where we have complex and diverse supply chains, combined with a lack of transparency and weak enforcement protections, modern slavery has been able to thrive. In fact, modern slavery can be found within almost every sector, region, and industry. The economic and social consequences associated with the Covid-19 pandemic have and will continue to further exacerbate the risk of modern slavery for vulnerable workers globally. As part of our Covid-19 recovery, we need to set standards that benefit all stakeholders across the supply chain.

Numerous governments around the world have already introduced legislative changes to address modern slavery, however, these countries cannot solve modern slavery on their own. Like-minded countries such as New Zealand – countries that prioritise ethics and sustainability – must similarly show leadership and act to end modern slavery.

Many New Zealand companies have already begun to address these issues under legislation that is

increasingly being implemented around the world. Modern Slavery Acts are deliberately designed to encourage collaboration. Where modern slavery is found, sectors can work together to find creative, commercial, and long-lasting solutions.

Modern slavery goes against our Kiwi values. New Zealand’s identity as a nation is built on kindness, fairness, equality, and sustainability. As New Zealand continues to trade on these credentials, showing leadership on addressing modern slavery through ensuring its companies and public sector are meeting global labour rights standards, becomes more important.

We the undersigned, therefore, call on the New Zealand government to commence a government inquiry into a Modern Slavery Act for New Zealand business and public sector supply chains.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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